The Eighth Circuit United States Court of Appeals recently released an opinion affirming a jury verdict in favor of a defendant after a trial was held on the plaintiffs’ allegations surrounding the death of their 23-month-old son. The boy drowned in a pond after he climbed from his crib in the middle of the night and left his home, getting past a doorknob cover that was intended to keep the child from using the door. On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the district court was mistaken in permitting testimony that the boy’s mother failed to secure a secondary chain lock on the door on the night of the boy’s death.
The Tragic Drowning of the Plaintiffs’ Child
The plaintiffs in the case of Coterel v. Dorel Juvenile Group were the parents of a boy who died after he wandered from the family home in the middle of the night and drowned in a nearby pond. The boy’s parents awoke in the morning to find the front door to their home ajar and the boy missing from his crib. Minutes later, the boy’s father found him floating unresponsive in the pond, approximately 50 yards from the home. The defendant in the case was the manufacturer of a doorknob cover that the couple had received as a gift and had been using to keep the child from operating the front door. After the boy’s death, the plaintiffs filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the manufacturer, alleging that the doorbell cover was a dangerous product that failed to work as intended and that it was negligently manufactured and marketed by the defendant.
The Jury Found the Defendant Was Not at Fault at Trial
The plaintiffs’ product liability and negligence claims went to trial, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant. During trial, evidence was introduced over the plaintiffs’ objection that the parents had previously witnessed their son defeating the doorknob cover, and they installed a chain lock on the front door after noticing this. The defendant argued at trial that the plaintiffs knew the doorknob cover wouldn’t keep the child from leaving the home, and they were negligent by failing to use the additional lock. The jury was not required to explain their decision on the verdict form and indicated only that the defendant should not be liable for the boy’s death.